Hollywood millionaire Richard Gere has called upon the Italian government to assist migrants who have been stranded on a Spanish charity boat in the Mediterranean for more than a week.
The Italian government needed to stop “demonizing people”, the actor said.
Gere boarded the vessel, which has been blocked from entering Italian waters, on Friday.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini hit back, saying Gere should take the 160 migrants to Hollywood.
Gere, who visited the Open Arms ship in a show of support, also joined a news conference on the Italian island of Lampedusa calling for the migrants to be allowed to dock.
He made comparisons between Salvini, who has made repeated efforts to block migrant ships from docking in Italy, and US President Donald Trump, who has faced widespread criticism for his immigration policies.
“We have our problems with refugees coming from Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico… It’s very similar to what you are going through here”, he said, accusing both politicians of demonizing migrants.
“This has to stop everywhere on this planet now. And it will stop if we say stop”, he added.
It didn’t take Salvini long to respond.
“Given this generous millionaire is voicing concern for the fate of the Open Arms migrants, we thank him: he can take back to Hollywood, on his private plane, all the people aboard and support them in his villas. Thank you Richard!”, he said in a statement.
Over the course of a career spanning more than 40 years, Gere, 69, has starred in films including Pretty Woman, American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman.
A campaigner for environmental causes and AIDS awareness, he is also a Buddhist who pays regular visits to Dharamshala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Richard Gere is worth an estimated £100 million according to the website celebritynetworth.com.
Salvini, whose party made sweeping gains in last year’s Italian general election, has pledged to deport 500,000 migrants by 2023.
Earlier this week he tabled a motion of no confidence in his own government, in a bid to force through a snap election and take control from his coalition partners Five Star Movement.